'Survivor's' Zeke Smith on Trans Movie '3 Generations' and the "Path to Acceptance" (Guest Column)

Courtesy of The Weinstein Company
'3 Generations'

The new drama stars Elle Fanning as a transgender boy who can't transition on his own timelime.

3 Generations, the new The Weinstein Co. film about a transgender boy’s roadblocks to beginning medical transition, opened May 5 to both tepid reviews and a bounty of criticism from the transgender community. But I believe 3 Generations does speak, though maybe unintentionally, to something essential about the trans experience. Namely, that we must often transition on our loved one’s timelines — not our own.

Ray, the main character played by Elle Fanning, is desperate to begin testosterone therapy, or “start T,” as the fellas say. But since he’s sixteen, the consent of both his biological parents is required — a plot device that although not accurate (in New York state, minors can consent to their own health care — including hormone therapy), does capture the truth about the social barriers to transition that many trans people face.

I remember sitting in the doctor’s office, giddy with anticipation, having completed the required blood work and holding the requisite therapist letter, ready to get my first injection, only to be crestfallen when my doctor said, “Let’s wait a couple of weeks. Get your parents’ blessing first.” 

Despite being an independent, twenty-year-old college student and legally not needing anyone’s permission to live authentically, I did desire the enthusiastic support of my loved ones as I embarked into the unknown. I’d finally put a name to a lifetime of discomfort and incongruity, found a path out of the darkness, but was stonewalled by the same plea that Maggie, Ray’s mother portrayed by Naomi Watts, begs of him, “Let’s take it slow.”

Ray faces many barriers from his family: a frightened mother; a second-wave lesbian grandmother (Susan Sarandon) who accuses him of feminist betrayal; a distant, uninvolved father (Tate Donovan) who hesitates on consenting as a means of settling an old score with Ray’s mother. Each begins hesitant, or downright hostile, toward Ray, but all come to see and love Ray for the young man he’s long known himself to be.

However, Ray disappoints as a character because he himself doesn’t change. He spends the film in a holding pattern. He can’t change until those around him have, which happens to be when the end credits finally roll.

While I found the character of Ray to be written with a cisgender person’s amateurish understanding of trans experience, I certainly identified with Ray’s frustration of finally finding comfort with yourself, only to be told by those you love, “we’re not comfortable with you just yet.” 

Trans people feel this frustration on a personal level and increasingly on a cultural and political level. As we’ve become the latest whipping children in the right-wing’s newest culture war, our rights to privacy, equal access and non-discrimination protections are left to the whims of a public that wishes we would take it slow because they’re not comfortable with us just yet. We’re again left in a holding pattern until those around us can journey to that inevitable place of acceptance.

In its highest ideals, 3 Generations seeks to accelerate that path to acceptance, but I believe that dream might be best realized by future films that showcase well-crafted transgender characters driving their own stories — ideally written, directed and performed by transgender people ourselves.

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